Spartan Race

Thursday, December 9, 2010

There's Nothing Like a Fall Run at the Beach

Some time ago, Mrs. RQ decided that she wanted to try her hand at an Ultramarathon. After much deliberation, I finally convinced her that it would be wise to start with a 50K, as opposed to a 40 or 50 miler, or even a timed race. We also generally like to drive to races, so we needed one close to home. Months passed, and we really couldn't find a race that matched these two criteria. Then one day, we happened upon the inaugural Mad Marsh Race in Beaufort, SC. 50K? Check! Easy driving distance? Check! Mrs. RQ immediately signed up. There was also a 22.5 mile race. I figured I might as well sign up for that one. Only a few days later did I realize that the Outer banks Half was the week before. Thus did the RQ family run a half one weekend followed by a 22.5 mile and 31.5 mile (actually 32, but more on that later) race back to back. And we're glad we did it.

OBX Half Marathon

The Outer Banks Marathon/Half Marathon is consistently one of the friendliest, best organized, and well run races that we attend. The 2010 version was no different. Both Mrs. RQ and I ran the half this year. The marathon is varied in terrain and takes you through maritime forest, quaint communities, and by the Wright Brother's Memorial. The half consists of the second half of the marathon. While it's still a nice course - flat as a pancake with the exception of the Washington-Baum Bridge- there's more to see on the first half of the course, and I found myself missing it this year. It's probably my own fault, because I spent half the race trying to figure out why my Garmin was beeping incessantly - more on that later.

The first couple of miles of the half take you by Jockey's Ridge, the largest sand dunes on the east coast. They're huge, and you're awfully glad that the road you're running down was built around them rather than running over them. I usually really enjoy this part of the race, but I spent the majority of the first 4 miles or so trying to figure out why my Garmin was beeping like a dump truck in reverse. I ultimately turned it off and then back on, but it continued to beep. Finally, around mile 3, I stopped on the side of the road for a good 3 minutes and turned off every alarm, bell, whistle, etc I could find. It still beeped. I gave up and turned the device off. That should have been the end of it, but my inability to make it work properly meant grated on my and my failure was gnawing on me like an ulcer.

Miles 4 through 9 are largely run through residential neighborhoods, with occasional views of salt marsh and the Washington-Baum Bridge. Local folks really turn out to cheer you on, and this is a fun part of the race. I did experience something I've never had to deal with at this point in a race. Somewhere around mile 4.5, I came upon about 7 women running shoulder to shoulder at a clip that was probably about a minute per mile slower than the race traffic around them. They were clearly a group - they all had their nicknames printed on duct tape they were wearing across they're shoulders. A fairly large group of disgruntled runners was massed behind them, trying to get around them on the shoulders of the road, but they rudely continued to block everyone. I was in the middle of the road and simply slipped between two of them. One yelled at me and asked me why I couldn't just go around them. I'm still shaking my head about it. Really, you didn't realize that you were rude ones? Horrible race etiquette.

About mile 7, my techie ocd need for race data took over and I turned my Garmin back on. It still alarmed. After much machination, I figured out that I'd set an interval for 4 seconds. Meaning it was alarming literally every four seconds. I turned it off, and, not surprisingly, no more alarm.

Around mile 10 one reaches the bridge. It ain't fun, and it's long. It also tires you out so much that you really can't take advantage of the downhill on the other side. The last two miles take you in to Manteo, NC - a pretty little town which puts a lot into the race finish. I cruised in about 5 minutes slower than my usual pace, but then I spent the first three miles of the race running with my face in my GPS. The post race party was great as usual - free clam chowder and Coors Light. I highly recommend this race.

Mad Marsh

The next weekend, Mrs. RQ and I made the reasonable trip down to Beaufort, SC for the Mad Marsh Ultra. Though small, this race was really well done. It consists of multiple laps of a 4.5 mile course that wraps around a now-defunct golf course with a few road crossings. You basically run the cart path - which gives you highly varied running surfaces and different terrain. Sometimes we were running on dirt, sometimes on soft sand, crushed gravel, or grass. Every once in a while there was even some asphalt thrown in for good measure.

Like most races, this one started before sun up. Everything went well for the first mile. We then hit a road. A guy up front took a left, and about 10 of us followed like good little lemming. After a little while, we realized that we didn't see any more course markings. A few seconds later, we figured out that we made a wrong turn and had to back track about a quarter of a mile. There was the cart path, marked clearly with red glow sticks. We're just all so conditioned to follow the leader in races that none of us noticed it. The rest of the first lap was really cool. There was just a little bit of hazy fog coming off the ground, which coupled with the orange-gold sunrise and the Spanish moss on the live oaks made for a surreal first time around the course.

Mrs. RQ and I ran together for about the first 3 laps, but then she got the better of me and I told her to run on without me. It turned out to be a good move. Since I didn't have a time goal, I turned off my GPS and I ran the next two laps with a number of different folks. I was really just killing time while my wife ran the longer race. After I completed my last two laps, I walked to my truck, grabbed a lawn chair and a book, and sat there watching others cross the finish line. A few minutes later, I pulled off my shoes and socks and realized that I was absolutely coated from the knee down with a layer of microscopic sand. Pursuant to that, this dirt coating started to really itch. Turns out it wasn't the sand, I was being eaten alive by sand gnats. An hour or so later, Mrs. RQ crossed the finish line - as the first female. Given that this was the inaugural event, she also set the course record for women despite having run a half mile out of the way - quite an accomplishment for her first Ultra.

I can't say enough good things about this race. The course was great, the volunteers were excellent, the atmosphere was festive. It was, like a lot of Ultras, very low key and no frills, but that really made the experience. No expo, no medal, no port-a-potties (though plenty of woods), but one small, steep hill, a dead squirrel, a physicist from Australia, a few barefoot runners, a cool race shirt, and a lot of fun. We'll definitely be back next year. With bug spray.

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